Friday, June 17, 2016

Preserving the seasonal flavor of strawberries for the year - By Sarah Davenport

One of my favorite seasons is just around the corner… strawberry season! Whether you pick berries at a local farm, buy fresh at the farmer’s market, or enjoy strawberries right from your own garden, there’s no denying that this time of year is delicious. But the strawberry season is only a few short weeks, and often it’s gone before we know it.
So how can you enjoy the bright summer taste of strawberries all year long? This year, consider preserving some of the berries you pick!
Strawberries can be preserved using a variety of techniques including freezing, dehydrating and canning. Regardless of which method you choose, be sure to use ripe, freshly picked berries. Strawberries are best when preserved on the day you bring them home, so you will want to set aside a little extra time after returning from the U­pick.

In my opinion, there’s no better way to capture the flavor of summer than with strawberry jam. Homemade strawberry jam is a classic treat, and it’s a great place to begin if you’re just getting started in the world of home canning.

Canning fruit like strawberries can safely be done using a hot water bath, which simply means that jars of the prepared berries are submerged in boiling water for a set amount of time to allow the jars to seal. You can easily pick up the necessary equipment at hardware or farm supply stores, or at big box stores. You will need a large stock pot, a rack to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot, and glass jars with two­ piece lids made specifically for canning. It is also helpful to have a funnel for filling the jars and tongs or a jar lifter for removing hot jars from the canning pot. Once you have these tools, along with your freshly picked strawberries, you’re ready to start making jam.

When choosing a jam recipe, it’s best to use a trusted source that relies on the most up ­to ­date food safety information. Today, let’s take a look at making jam without added pectin using a recipe from the UMaine Cooperative Extension. For 4 cups of prepared berries, you will need to clean and sterilize 4-half­pint or 2-pint jars by boiling them in your canning pot for 10 minutes. Prepare your strawberries by hulling and crushing them. Mix the berries with 4 cups of sugar and bring them to a boil while stirring continually.

As you continue to boil the mixture, the jam will begin to thicken. Use a jelly or candy thermometer to determine when the jam is ready to go into jars. At our elevation of less than 500 feet, the mixture will need to reach a temperature of 220 degrees F. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can also place 2 tablespoons of jam on a cold plate and chill it in the freezer for 2 minutes. If the mixture gels, it’s ready to go into jars.
Fill your jars with the hot jam, leaving ¼­inch of head space, or empty space, at the top of the jar. Wipe the rim of your jar with a clean, damp cloth before applying the 2­piece lids. Place the flat lid on top, and then apply the screw band, only tightening it with the tips of your fingers. Place your filled jars back in the canning pot, and bring the water back to a boil. Leave the jars in the boiling water to process for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and remove the jars from the canning pot. Do not adjust the screw bands, simply place the jars on a towel or rack to cool for 12-24 hours. Once the jars are cooled, you need to remove those screw bands to make sure that you’ve got a good seal between the jar and the flat lid. This seal is what will keep your jam preserved through the coming year, assuming that you don’t eat it all right away!

Making jam is just one of the ways you can savor this year’s strawberry harvest. Similar food preservation techniques can be used for most summer fruits and berries. If you’re interested in learning more about canning, there are many opportunities available. I suggest taking a class through the UMaine Cooperative Extension, or picking up a book on the latest canning information. The world of food preservation is full of ways that you can keep the flavors of summer with you throughout the year. Let’s dig in!

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